February 4, 2016 Member Letter
The month of January witnessed some major events in the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. We published our first issue of One Accord in full color; we began our third year of Discern magazine; we were visited in the office by Saul Langarica, our pastor in Santiago, Chile, and Ivan Vera, an employee in the Santiago church office; we visited Living Church of God in Charlotte, North Carolina; and we prepared the mailing of our newest printed booklet, The Sabbath: A Neglected Gift From God.
But it wasn’t just from the office that work was being accomplished. Cecil Maranville, who oversees our Personal Correspondence Department from his home in North Carolina, reported that during the month of January 2016 we responded to 404 messages, for an average of more than 13 per calendar day. That compares to 294 in January 2015, which amounts to a 37 percent increase. As our Internet presence continues to grow, we are interacting with more and more people. And, as we all know, when God begins working with an individual, that person will ask more questions and request more literature. We are definitely seeing an increase in people making contact and engaging with us. We are also seeing a spike in the number of booklet downloads from our member website.
In local congregations personal contacts with the ministry are also increasing. In 2015 we had 369 new contacts. These are being reported from U.S. congregations and amount to more than one every single calendar day. While these are still small numbers, it was a new record for us. By “new contact,” I mean someone who found us on the Internet or came across some of our literature and then took the step of calling or writing to a local pastor. These are all in addition to anyone who made contact with us here at the office.
It is hard to know what 2016 will bring, but January is off to a good start in virtually all areas. The more people we can expose to the gospel message, the more lives that have the potential for change. We are under no delusion that this is done by us! It is God who does the calling (John 6:44), but we can provide assistance to those whom He chooses to call. We have congregations, members and ministers around the world to provide that assistance. We hope and pray that God will call more individuals and that they will begin attending services.
Even though I was quite young, I remember clearly what it was like to attend services for the very first time. My mother began observing the Sabbath in the early 1950s, but there were no congregations for her to attend, at least not anywhere near our home in northeastern Arkansas. It was in July of 1961 that a letter arrived from Herbert W. Armstrong and the Radio Church of God, informing us of a new congregation in Memphis, Tennessee. Even though it was more than 50 years ago, I still remember that first Sabbath service!
While our family was striving to keep the Sabbath at home and learn all that we could from the literature, there was a marked difference when we actually attended a church service. Even though I had never been to a service of any kind prior to that first visit and really didn’t know what to expect, I was impressed by what I heard and saw. From the song leading to the opening prayer, the sermonette, the announcements and the sermon, I was positively affected by it all. There was no comparison between keeping the Sabbath at home with your family and keeping the Sabbath with about 70 brethren.
I realized at that time how important it was to gather with God’s people. I knew from an academic perspective that Sabbath services were important and that the Sabbath was referred to in Scripture as a commanded assembly, a “holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:3; Exodus 20:8). But until that day in the old Ellis Auditorium on the banks of the Mississippi River, I had no idea what it “felt” like to attend a church service. From that day forward, church services became as much a part of my life as getting dressed in the morning. It is something you do over and over again, never taking it for granted, but getting the most out of each and every opportunity. Over the past 50-plus years, there have been a few occasions when I was unable to attend services, either because of sickness or being on a trip where there was no congregation. But every time this has happened to me, I have to admit it felt “strange.” I knew there was something missing.
As I write this, I know that there are members who do not have a congregation, and in some cases, we have members who are unable to attend because of health or other physical difficulties. One of the reasons I enjoy traveling to different parts of the world is to visit the members who live in remote areas. This summer David Baker and I are planning another trip to India and Sri Lanka. Talk about scattered! The few members we have in India are scattered from Kolkata in the east to Hyderabad in the south central to Moradabad in the extreme north near the border with Nepal. It is a joy to be able to provide them with a church service, even though the group is small—ranging from two or three to 15 to 20. In Sri Lanka the numbers are equally small, but we conduct a regular church service in a member’s home.
I want to encourage all of us who have a local congregation and are physically able to make a commitment to gather with the brethren every single Sabbath if at all possible. Whenever I teach a class for the ministry, I make reference to the importance of the Sabbath service. I encourage them to do their very best every single Sabbath. As human beings, no matter how hard we try, we sometimes fail. I have felt that way over the years. There was a time when I gave a Friday night prison Bible study, a Sabbath morning prison Bible study, two sermons on the Sabbath, and a church activity on Saturday night. I was pretty tired on Sunday and sometimes felt there wasn’t enough of me to go around! But I still knew that I had to do my own study and make sure I was preparing organized, well-thought-out messages each time I spoke. I can’t tell you that I always succeeded, but it was never for a lack of effort or desire.
I don’t believe I can overemphasize the importance and value of Sabbath services. I continue to pray for all of you, and I ask that you pray for us here at the office. We are being given many new opportunities to preach the gospel. And we are committed to never neglecting the care of the Church. Thank you so much for all your support!
Sincerely, your brother in Christ,